Dairy farms struggle to stay open during financially stressful year

(WKOW) — Wisconsin is on pace to lose the most dairy farms in one year since 2013.

In August alone, state agriculture officials say Wisconsin lost 47 dairy farms.

In the first eight months of the year, 429 dairy farms shut down.

Kurt Dairy Farm in Dane was one of those more than 400 dairy farms to close its doors.

“We cried, at least we had each other,” Lindsey Manning said. Manning’s fiancé owned the farm.

They auctioned the farm off in April.

“It was real hard, it was sad,” said Manning. “Saying goodbye to all our animals and now we’re just adjusting to the life style change.”

Manning didn’t grow up farming, but it became a big part of her life.

“I loved it,” Manning said. “I actually work part time at a couple farms just so I can see the animals and do the farming. I didn’t do it my whole life but I ended up loving the job.”

Mark Stephenson focuses on Dairy Policy at UW-Madison. He says while it is common for milk prices to go up and down, the low prices don’t usually last for several years and the tariffs just made things worse.

“The world is a little bit over-supplied with milk and we’re one of the major exporters so when we aren’t exporting as much as we would like, then that product stays here at home. That puts downward pressure on product price,” Stephenson said.

Despite the declining number of farms, Stephenson said we still are producing more milk than ever before.

“Our dairy cows are also more and more productive every single year and that contributes to our needing fewer cows and fewer cows usually means fewer farms,” Stephenson said.

Many of the farms that are closing are small, family farms.

“I think these massive dairies are just getting larger and kinda pushing the smaller ones out, kind of like your big box stores, they’re doing the same thing in the dairy industry,” Manning said.

Kurt and Manning had plans for the farm.

“We wanted to get married in the backyard and eventually raise a family there and teach them about farming,” Manning said.

Kurt had owned the farm for nearly two decades.

“Everybody has a farm and they have their own special story,” Manning said. “It was either their grandparents or their family’s.”

Manning said they do plan on purchasing more land and farming recreationally.

If they ever decided to farm professionally again, Manning and Kurt won’t go into dairy farming.

Stephenson said he does expect things to level out in 2019 and we will no longer see as many farms closing.

Amanda Hari

Amanda Hari

Reporter, WKOW

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